Last week, two prominent BioWare employees, Casey Hudson and Mark Darrah, announced their departure from the studio. Following this, Mark Darrah, now the former executive producer of the Dragon Age series, was attacked on Twitter by Greg Ellis, the voice actor for Cullen Rutherford in Dragon Age: Inquisition. Ellis took to his personal YouTube channel to unleash an increasingly unhinged rant about cancel culture while in character as Cullen Rutherford. Ellis’ behaviour has me seriously considering deleting my Dragon Age fanfiction library.
Cullen Rutherford, a character who’s been present in all three Dragon Age games, is one of my favourite characters. Cullen is the character I can’t stop myself from romancing in every one of my Inquisition playthroughs and is the leading man (sorry Varric) in 24 of my 25 of my Dragon Age fanfictions. I’ve got a plushie of him, scores of commissioned fanart, and even a body pillow that occupies a place of honour in my home. While I know Cullen’s character isn’t just the product of Ellis’ voice acting, Ellis’ YouTube video has me reconsidering how I feel about him.
I love fanfiction. It took a long time for me to be comfortable with saying this out loud because pervasive stereotypes about fanfiction and the sexual content therein treat it like a shameful activity. Attitudes concerning fanfiction have improved dramatically from when I was younger.; now, fanfiction writers earn mainstream success and women and queer people have become more vocal about using fanfiction as a means of addressing desires long ignored by contemporary entertainment. For me, fanfiction was the latter. I was raised in an all-female household by a single mum who barely dated and would barely ever broach the topic of sex except to say “don’t bring home no babies.” Fanfiction became my sexual outlet — a means of safely exploring and understanding my burgeoning desires. It was also a means of writing myself and my experiences into the worlds I loved, worlds that always seemed to ignore the existence of Black women. I wrote my first piece of fanfiction when I was 16 — it was a gift for my younger sister who loved Lord of the Rings so I wrote for her a story about a Black elf (loosely based on her, of course) in love with the elf Legolas.
Since then, fanfiction has been a constant in my life, and my chosen fandoms span decades and genres. I gorged myself on Hiei/Kurama fics in the Yu Yu Hakusho fandom. I wrote stories for Pirates of the Caribbean, Final Fantasy XII, and Avatar: The Last Airbender. I remember fondly the shipping wars of that fandom and I still, to this day, proudly ship Zuko/Katara (come at me, Katara/Aang).
Last month, I wrote about how Dragon Age: Inquisition saved my life. When I was drowning in depression and stagnation, Inquisition was the life raft and fanfiction was the line that reeled me to safety. Fanfiction was my coping mechanism, a way for me to write myself out of my current circumstances and into places where I was loved and cherished. In my hands, Cullen was kind, understanding, and supportive, with a hell of a sword arm. Using Cullen, I came to the realisation that I didn’t necessarily have to settle for a fantasy, that I could break the harmful patterns of behaviour in my real life in order to find the same joy I wrote for myself in Thedas. Fanfiction taught me how to love myself and showed me how I wanted to be loved. When I go back and read my fics, I can distinctly remember the events that spawned a particular scene. I never kept a diary; instead my library is like a fictionalized history of some of my worst years.
But now, I can’t read my fics without thinking of Ellis. After all, it’s his voice that comes out when Cullen speaks, the same voice that released a now private video laced with all the dog whistles like “SJWs” and “cancel culture” that beckon the trolls. I can’t separate the actor from his role, and because I can’t, looking at my library of over 400,000 words hurts for a new reason. Instead of dredging up old memories, it inspires fresh ones, where I hear a beloved voice — one that gave me so much comfort when I needed it the most — support bigots who hate me. I can’t even write new fics in protest. My only consolation is that my Cullen, the one that I wrote, would punch the FrankenCullen talking in that video.
Cullen is a popular character, so I don’t begrudge anyone who wishes to remain on Team Rutherford. Even though Trespasser put a definitive end on his story, I used to pray that he’d somehow return in Dragon Age 4 since he’s shown up in every game before it. Now I’m glad there’s a very good chance he won’t show up. I can leave him with my Inquisitor to their peaceful retirement and my personal canon that they’re running a farm for mabari and recovering lyrium addicts.
As for my fics, I haven’t decided what to do. If I do delete, some fics I’ll save, like the ones I dedicated to my friends and the one I wrote in protest of a particularly nasty and racist fic. The rest will simply disappear into the internet ether, waiting for when Cullen is hopefully recast and I can return to writing my fave. Or, they’ll be completely supplanted as I pivot to my new comfort character: The Mandalorian.